My first indication of a problem was when I bit into the sausage. Incredible pain shot through my every nerve, as if someone poked an ice pick about 6 inches into my gum. “Owwwwww!” I yelled. Sheila took one look in my mouth and declared, “We’ve got to go to the dentist.” “What is this We’ve got to go to the dentist stuff?” I asked her. It is amazing to me that nurses and doctors are so free with comments about, “How are We doing today?” or “Well, We must be feeling better today.” Et tu, Sheila? After protesting, I prepared to go to a dental clinic, the only place available on Saturday in the small town in southern Pennsylvania. In 1966, we were on temporary assignment for the government. I sized up the small clinic right away when we got into the waiting room and the receptionist was wiping grease from her hands. “Doctor Homer will be with you as soon as he washes up.” Out the window, she yelled, “Homerrrr!” I saw a man close the hood to an old Chevy pick-up and head toward the rear of the building. The receptionist said we could go on back. Dr. Homer looked in my mouth and said, “Ummmmm! (I hate when they do ummmmm!) It looks like we have an abscessed tooth here.” (There’s that We stuff again.) One extraction later, we were on our way back to our temporary home, Sheila said, “How are we feeling?” Mouth packed with gauze, I replied, “Nutt tu guuie! Huz wil beaa!” “I’ve never heard of anyone pulling an abscessed tooth,” she said. Immediately upon arriving home, I lay down. Hard, cold chills set in. Sheila called Dr. Homer to report what was going on. Nurse receptionist told her I should be taken to the emergency room. Once again we were rolling, and I was feeling like I was about to expire. When we arrived at the ER, I was convinced they were related to Dr. Homer, the dentist/part-time mechanic. The ER doctor took off his grease-stained coveralls and put on a green hospital outfit, “What’s our problem?” he asked. I knew what mine was, and it was getting progressively worse by the minute. “Uhhhggg!” I said. “Ummmmm!” he said. I closed my eyes and waited to die. Poison had backed into my system from the extracted tooth. He gave me a shot of penicillin to combat the poison. I had taken penicillin many times before, including many shots, when as a child I had lockjaw. We left once more to return home, only to have more difficulties---a reaction from the shot broke me out in blisters, and breathing was difficult. Back to the ER! I received another shot to counteract the penicillin. Finally three days later, I decided I might live. In the end, I was convinced that Emergency rooms and weekend dental clinics are manned by off-duty mechanics. “Next time,” I told Sheila, “take me to the nearest garage.”
In 1966, I was employed by Robins A.F.B., GA as and Electronics Repairer, when the word came down that we were going to get a Missile Repair Station out of Olmstead A.F.B., PA. There was considerable excitement about the news and, I felt it would be a great opportunity for advancement in my Civil Service career if I should be selected. I was selected to go to Pennsylvania on temporary duty to learn the Guided Missile Repair System and to assist in helping to relocate it to Robins A.F.B. Initially, my wife Sheila and I decided that I would go alone since the temporary duty would only be three or four months, thereby saving money on housing and food. Later, however, Sheila and our three little daughters joined me in a very small trailer in the strange surroundings of a quaint coal mining town named Hummelstown which was nestled along side of a small river. We had some great adventures while living there which included going to Gettysburg, the famous site of the great turning point of the Civil War. The whole time we were there turned into an exciting adventure of exploring new places and things. One weekend however, turned out to be a scary time which we did not bargain for. When I awoke on Saturday morning, I had a not unfamiliar pain in my mouth. I say not unfamiliar because toothaches and I frequented each other during my entire years of growing up. I knew immediately that this one had the earmarks of being bad because of the pain and swelling. At first I thought perhaps I might prepare some breakfast for us quietly, eat and then have the pain subside. Cooking breakfast has always been something that I enjoyed, probably because I always enjoyed eating a big breakfast during the years when I was a child. Once, breakfast was ready, I eased over to our bed and said, “Sweetie, come on and get up and see what I’ve got ready to eat.” Sheila, never one to enjoy food at the crack of dawn, mumbled something unintelligibly, rustled in the sheets and turned her back to me. “Come on, Honey … wake up while I get the girls up”, I said with all the enthusiasm I could muster while trying to ignore the increasing amount of pain in my mouth. After having only a slight bit more success in awakening Sleepy, Grouchy and Dopey, I was finally able to get the entire family around the small aluminum table in the somewhat diminutive area that served as kitchen and dining room in our temporary home. I served the less than enthusiastic crew breakfast consisting of eggs, rice and bacon with a piece of toast as they struggled to join the living. My first bite was the warning that said I might have a problem, “Eeyoooowww!” I yelled startling all the erstwhile sleepers who suddenly took notice of their surroundings at the table. Some jumped, all eyes widened and some mouths fell open. “What’s wrong?” Sheila asked looking somewhat shaken from the sound of my scream. “I’ve got a bad toothache and it is really starting to hurt.” “Let me look at it.” “Well, just don’t touch it or anything. Okay?” She looked inside my mouth as I held it open and almost lost her breath, “Oh Honey, we’ve go to go find a doctor or dentist. It looks really bad ….. maybe abscessed even.” After checking next door to see if the people there might have an idea where we might get in touch with a dentist, they said they did not think we would be able to find one on Saturday that was open. They did, however, loan her their phone book and telephone. After scurrying through the pages Sheila was able to find and make contact with a dental clinic that was open on the weekend for emergencies ….. in retrospect I think perhaps the clinic was either manned by dental students or off duty automobile mechanics. After looking inside my mouth they made a decision to extract the abscessed tooth immediately, thus the tooth and I parted ways forthwith. Leaving the clinic almost immediately, I wasn’t certain whether I felt better or worse. With more than a small amount of irritation at the unexpected series of events, I told Sheila, “I think I need to lay down. I am feeling shaky.” “Come on over here and lay on the sofa,” she said as she whisked a pillow from the nearest bed applying it underneath my head. Seeing that I was not feeling very well, she pushed the little girls outside and said, “Play quietly and don’t go off anywhere.” What seemed like only moments later, I was starting to feel extremely cold. “Honey, I’m freezing!” Finding anything she could to place over me, Sheila quickly tried to make me comfortable. Nothing seemed to help as I began shaking uncontrollably. She lay beside me to avail her body heat to me in order to stem the onslaught of whatever was happening to me. Fearing the worst, she said I’ll be right back whereupon she ran next door to place a call to the automobile mechanic at the dental clinic. He said, “The poison from the abscessed tooth must have backed up into his system. Call the emergency room and they can probably help him out.” Immediately she located the number to the emergency room and explained to them what seemed to happen to me earlier that day. They said to bring me in at once. Sheila asked the neighbors to look after our children, and summoned some help from a nearby friend to give her some assistance in getting me to the emergency room. I was hardly aware of being moved as they placed me in the back seat of our Ford Falcon. Getting directions Sheila headed to the downtown area where the hospital was located in our adopted town. Upon our arrival, the on duty doctor examined me and determined that I needed a shot of penicillin to counter the poison that had rendered me helpless. After the emergency room treatment, we headed back to the small trailer hoping for things to settle down. It was not to be! In a very short time after our arrival home, I started having difficulty breathing and Sheila noticed blisters forming around my mouth, on my face in my throat and on my chest. Racing next door to use the phone again, she placed a call to the emergency room where she again talked to the mechanic who had apparently come to the emergency room to help out. They told her to bring me back right away. Once more Sheila loaded me into the car and headed back to the hospital where it was determined that I had an allergic reaction to the penicillin shot. “Don’t worry”, the mechanic reassured her, “we have something to give him to counter the penicillin.” After a shot of what certainly must have been STP or Fix-a-Flat, we headed back home once more to see if peace and tranquillity would await us upon our arrival. After three days of rest, I returned to normal minus one tooth and with some memories that until now have remained beneath the surface of my mind for many years. I am certain many others have some emergency room stories they can share with us.
It was such an innocent time when as a child of very few years, I walked the streets of the cotton mill village without shoes, sometimes without a shirt, and nearly always with a cotton rope through the loops of my short pants to hold them up. Just a runt of a boy who by the time I reached eight years old, had overcome a disease named tetanus, more commonly known as “lockjaw.” A typical day in my world as a young American might have me cutting limbs from a chinaberry tree. After trimming part, or all, of the bark from the limbs the limbs would then become my “pretend horses.” I had the run of the mill village, and for that matter, most of the town where I grew up. As previously stated, it was an innocent time in the lives of most Americans. After WWII, the boys who had gone away to fight, came home as men, once more taking their places with their families. Warm, lazy days were the order for summer months. Fall would burst through with magical colors in the trees painting the Georgia landscape with unbelievable beauty. Wintertime quickened the step of the bravest of hearts when an assignment from our father would have us make a run to the firewood pile, or to fetch a scuttle of coal in order to battle the fierce southern cold air which forced entry through cracks into our small frame house. As winter tired of being around, the spring rains ushered in the beautiful white flowers of dogwoods, and the brightest, most beautiful greenery our eyes could behold. Robins hopped around in search of a meal, while the bees and other insects brought a continual hum that was welcome music to the ears. Much has been made about three very popular 1950s television sitcoms portraying parents on “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “Ozzie and Harriett.” I am not sure where the role models for the parents on those shows came from, but as I reflect on my own mother and father, I certainly had wonderful examples with which to pattern my life. The previous statement is a lot like the old television show starring Walter Brennan as an old, gun-toting cowboy when he said, “No brag, just fact!” During my lifetime, my folks never took a drink of alcoholic beverage, never used offensive language, and with only one short exception they never imbibed in smoking. Let me explain. My mother suffered from bronchial asthma, and one of the things someone told her to try for relief from the constant coughing was to smoke Kool cigarettes. That old folks tale did not last long as she quickly discovered the opposite of relief came from smoking, bringing to an end my mother’s “addiction to the evil weed.” When I look at my ten wonderful grandchildren, I sometimes feel guilty for having had such a wonderful time during my youth, as opposed to all the terrible temptations to which they are subjected. My childhood was filled with five cent drinks, moon pies, penny wheel crackers, and ice cream cups with pictures of movie stars on the underneath side of the lids. “Picture shows” cost only twelve cents with enough change left over from a quarter with which to purchase treats. On Saturday at the movies, we could count on a cowboy movie starring anyone from Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, to the Durango Kid or Sunset Carson, to name only a few. In addition there would be what we termed a “regular movie” such as the Bowery Boys or Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Following those treats there would be a cartoon featuring Tom and Jerry or some other zany comic characters, and in addition to all that, we looked forward with much anticipation to the ongoing serial which would last for 15 weeks, with each chapter ending in a suspenseful cliffhanger resonated with the deep voiced announcement, “Be sure not to miss next week’s thrilling episode. Will Jack Armstrong escape the oncoming train, or will he be crushed to death?” Fat chance! No one would dare miss next Saturday. Even as a teenager, the worst peer pressure temptations we had to face was slipping around behind a building to smoke a cigarette, which actually was an exercise in coughing and fake inhaling. Later in my life as a 17 year old, I was put into a position of turning down an offer to drink a beer one night, when to my surprise, some of my best friends announced that they were going to the drive-in to get a “cool one”. When I declined with the excuse that I promised my mother I would be home early, I was laughed at when they dropped me off in front of our home. The sound of their laughter rang in my ears for some time that night. Even with those temptations, it is nothing to compare to the horrible things that are offered to young children such as our grandchildren. Drugs, alcohol, premature sex and many other tools of Satan face our children’s offspring at an age much too young. With the inevitable growth of television, and less things done together as a family, life for our children’s children will continue to present them with terrible examples. It was said by a great man one time that “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” For all of you who are raising children, remember the least expensive, and yet the most valuable thing you can do for your children is to give them a hug and make the time to do things together as a family. The dividends for this effort are never ending.